Recently, I ran across a story in an on-line magazine about a couple in Kyloe, Northumberland, England, who purchased an old church building and turned it into a home. The article stated, “If they had not purchased the old church, who knows what would have happened to it, as it was in very bad shape.”
This is not the first time a church building has been renovated for something other than a house of worship. Last year, while on a trip to Toronto, Canada I saw first hand, a number of church buildings being used as warehouses, restaurants, and apartments.
What is your response when you hear stories like these? Do you say, “How cool,” or do you say, “How sad”? I say, “How prophetic!” This is a powerful message for each of us – a message we need to hear clearly!
It is sad to see hundreds and thousands of church buildings abandoned and sold each year in America. It breaks my heart because of what these buildings have meant to people down through the years. However, is it possible that the loss of these buildings is a blessing in disguise? Could this crisis force us to face the question of what it means to be the church? More specifically, “Can we be the church without our buildings?”
Theologically, we know the Church, as the Body of Christ, is not brick and mortar. In addition, we know historically how the churches became identified with structures, and where the term “house of worship” came from. However, sometimes we fail to see the negative impact church buildings can have on fulfilling the mission of the Church.
Inherently, there is nothing wrong with believers gathering in buildings. Millions of people have come to Christ and grown in their faith by attending worship services and Bible studies in church buildings. Many churches use their facilities regularly to minister to the needs of their community. There is however, something seriously lacking in our faith if we focus more on brick and mortar than we do on people, or when we pay more attention to the stained glass and pews than we do the souls of men and women God called us to serve.
The fact that churches in America spend millions of dollars each year on buildings and properties, begs the question. Is this the best use of the resources God has entrusted to His people? What if, rather than spending so much money on ourselves, we shifted our priorities so that the bulk of our resources is spent finding a solution to the problem of human trafficking, or discovering a way to end the tragedy of thousands of children dying everyday from preventable causes?
Please do not get me wrong. Stained glass windows are beautiful and can be a source of inspiration for worship. However, they can also block our vision of the ugliness, pain and depravity of the outside world – precisely the object of God’s redemptive love and the mission field for His Church!
The next time we read and hear about a church building being sold or renovated for use other than as a church, I hope this would serve as a prophetic message – a wakeup call! I pray it will challenge us to be the church outside the walls, to use our resources according the priority Jesus gave us in Matthew 25, and make a difference in the lives of “the least of these.”
Remember, church facilities like other physical icons of our faith exist to inspire, challenge and enable us to minister and serve in the marketplace and communities where we live and work. At the same time, they have the potential of hindering our mission. Therefore, let’s keep our focus on Jesus rather than the buildings and institutions that bear His name. Let’s worship and serve Him alone, and keep in mind everything else is secondary.